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Cambridge City Council Adopts Black History Policy Order

The Mayor’s Speech
Cambridge City Councillor E. Denise Simmons, who helped pass a policy order encouraging Cambridge residents to learn more about black history.

This February, the City of Cambridge celebrated Black History Month through a series of initiatives and events that recognized the achievements of African Americans.

During the first City Council meeting of the month, the council unanimously adopted a policy order encouraging Cambridge residents to learn more about the important contributions of African Americans to the city and to the country. The order was authored by Mayor Marc C. McGovern and—through an amendment—Councillor E. Denise Simmons.

“Cambridge is home to one of the oldest African American communities in the nation, and has been home to groundbreaking leaders and history makers,” the order states.

Among the black Cantabrigians highlighted in the order are Maria Louise Baldwin, the Northeast’s first African-American public school principal; Joshua Bowen Smith, an abolitionist and former state representative; and Clement G. Morgan, the first African American elected to the Cambridge Board of Alderman.

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McGovern said he wanted the order to be educational, rather than just a proclamation deeming February to be “Black History/African American History Month.” He also said he hopes Cambridge schools will continue to focus on teaching black history.

“It’s something we have to consistently self-evaluate and look at to make sure we’re not just teaching an Anglo, white history that you find in most textbooks,” McGovern said in an interview last week. “As a city and as a school district, we’re committed to that.”

McGovern also emphasized the significance of the city speaking up for values including inclusion and representation.

“It’s important for a city and elected officials and leaders in a community to step out and say, ‘We’re highlighting this,’” McGovern said.

This month, the city council also passed a policy order to create a permanent decal on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority buses in order to honor Rosa Parks. Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, who sponsored the order with Simmons, said she wants to acknowledge Parks’ role in the fight for equality.

“We really feel that we have to honor the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, not just in February but all year long,” Siddiqui said at the city council meeting on Feb. 5. “It’s important to make this recognition part of the physical infrastructures in our community.”

Last Thursday, the mayor’s office hosted an open mic night at City Hall to celebrate Black History Month. At the event, residents shared their poetry and artwork. Yet according to Deputy Chief of Staff Ana M. Barros ’16, the city’s commitment to people of color extends to policy as well.

“We have events to bring people together for community building, but on the other end, we also have policy initiatives that will be rolling out this year to address racial disparities,” Barros said. “We know the black residents of Cambridge are affected disproportionately by things like affordable housing.”

McGovern said the city has both short-term and long-term goals to address racial inequalities, including programs to address housing and homelessness. The work that needs to be done, he said, “has to go beyond February.” Simmons, who also spoke at the city council meeting on Feb. 5, agreed.

“African American history is not a month. It’s actually three hundred and sixty-five days of the year,” Simmons said.

—Staff writer Patricia J. Liu can be reached at patricia.liu@thecrimson.com.

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